Is “Giving back” coming back?

In one of the most remarkable stories about the upcoming inauguration, a Virginia businessman is spending more than $1.5 million to bring this historic event to the people. He will be throwing an Inaugural Ball for 1,000 people and putting up 300 of them in a swank hotel for three nights. The guests won’t be lobbyists or fundraisers and the wealthy.

Hundreds of people living on the margins of American society – the homeless, battered women, disabled soldiers, the terminally ill – are to be invited to the ball. For three days, they will be pampered, staying free-of-charge at a luxury hotel close to the White House.

Earl Stafford actually bought the $1 million package before the election, but the results from November 4 really have given a special touch to the gesture.

Stafford, who runs a charitable foundation, will invite 1,000 people to his ball at the Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. At least a third of them will be from a poor background, he said. They will be chosen by grassroots organisations throughout the US that help fight deprivation.

The 300 will stay at the hotel for three days, with all meals provided. On January 19, Martin Luther King Day, Stafford is to host a prayer breakfast for 1,000 and a lunch on the same day for 1,000. On inauguration day, they can watch from the hotel terrace the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue before attending the ball.

The Marriott package cost $1,000,000. Stafford didn’t stop there. He’s spending an additional $600,000 for the breakfasts and the ball.

The beneficiaries have yet to be selected. There are no details yet, but Mr. Stafford wants them to represent a cross-section of society and to come from across the country, from suburbs to slums.

With the help of organizations like the National Urban League, he is reaching out to hospitals, homeless shelters and other social agencies to find those who are under-served but who also represent hope and change. Afterward, he said, he hopes his guests will go out and help others.

I have to wonder how this would have played out in the dreadful event that the McCain/Palin campaign had succeeded, but under the circumstances there is real poignancy and perfect timing in Stafford’s gesture. What an amazing man!

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